Officials first clarified that the facility in Osceola County has a capacity of 5.3-million egg-laying hens, but there are were 3.8-million hens there when the disease was discovered. It is the largest outbreak discovered in the U.S. thus far.
USDA chief veterinary officer, John Clifford, says the large number of birds at the Osceola County facility raised concerns.
“A lot of people ask the question ‘well what can we do about it?’ Well, one of the things that we’re doing, we are trying to determine the pathway of introduction into these houses,” Clifford says. “My guess is — and right now there is no solid evidence as such — my guess is there are multiple pathways of entry and it doesn’t mean that people are using poor biosecurity.”
The disease is believe to be carried by wild waterfowl. Clifford says other states like Minnesota have seen more cases than Iowa thus far because they have more lakes and more wild migratory birds. He says other states have also had some colder weather. “And hopefully through the summer we would expect to stop seeing these cases because of the heat. This virus does not like the heat much at all, it prefers cooler temperatures in weather,” Clifford says.
He says we could see more cases of the virus as the waterfowl move gain in the fall and spring.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey was asked about the economic impact. He says it has varied since the first outbreaks were reported in other states in January.
“In some cases we’ve lost some markets, some export markets. In that case maybe we see a negative impact to prices — we actually see lower prices because there are less place for these egg products and poultry products to move,” Northey says. “In other cases we now are starting to see some significant reductions in the supply, so we are kind of counterbalancing, so it depends on how this plays out on what the impact might be.”
But Northey says while millions of birds have died in Iowa and other states, the impact has not been major in terms of prices.
“Right now it does not appear that the loss of supply in either turkey products or egg products is significant at this time to show a significant impact on prices,” Northey says. The first outbreak in Iowa was in a turkey facility in Buena Vista County.
The 37,000 turkeys there were destroyed and Northey says state and local officials are helping the Osceola County facility euthanized the birds there. Northey says the cases appear to be isolated at this point.
“We do not believe this is spreading in a way that is likely to create other problems on other farms. We believe this is coming from wild birds to these farms. That does not mean we might not see a significant number of new cases,” according to Northey. But he says this could also be the last case found in Iowa too.
Northey says these two facilities are a small part of the large egg and turkey industry in the state.
“As of today, eggs are still rolling out of most of our facilities. These are good, healthy eggs,” Northey says. “Consumers need to feel very comfortable eating Iowa eggs, eating Iowa turkey and eating Iowa chicken meat as well.”
Dr. Clifford, with the USDA, says the eggs from the facility in Osceola are cracked and pasteurized for use in egg products, so that would have killed any of the virus in those eggs. And the chickens are not being released into the market, so they do not pose any threat.